Realizing the Benefits of Fully Automated Methods for LC-MS Sample Preparation 

By October 18, 2017

Unlocking the potential of integrated automation

As a curious mind new to the world of automated sample preparation, I found myself in a position that may seem quite familiar to analytical chemists. I recognized the benefits of automation:

  • Increased laboratory efficiency
  • Highly reproducible analyses
  • Reduction of tedious bench time
  • The potential to increase throughput

However – the potential pitfalls and unknowns of implementing an automation solution were discouraging.

Challenges up and down the bench

One of my recent projects involved automating large-molecule sample preparation workflows for LC-MS. I learned that difficulties exist around every corner. Fully automated sample preparation methods are not simple to develop. They require method, application, and automation expertise.

One of the major caveats to automating a multi-step method is choosing your on-deck equipment and accessories.

You may be thinking, “I already have a platform, can’t I just use what I have?”

The short answer is yes – but there may be growing pains as you learn what will and won’t work for your method.

For example, let’s say you’ve grown quite comfortable manually performing a multi-step method. To automate that method, you map out your manual steps and repurpose the on-deck accessories you purchased for a previous project, for this project.

Now you find that the quick step of tamping down your sample tubes on your lab bench after heating, but prior to a critical reagent addition, is not so trivial with your fancy liquid handler. Perhaps your sample volume was too close to the top of your reaction vessel – but it didn’t cause any headaches when you did it manually at the bench.

To solve this problem, you’re now mulling over the purchase of a costly on-deck centrifuge, re-developing your method, or hiring another technician to add additional capacity to support this project! That’s what we can call “fitting a square peg into a round hole.”

Automation is more than automating manual steps

The complex workflows involved in large-molecule sample preparation provide an excellent example of common techniques that could benefit from automation. These procedures require many bench hours from highly skilled laboratory scientists, consuming much of their working day. The benefits of automating these tedious, highly complex workflows can include increasing both personnel and laboratory efficiency.

Some current vendors do offer robotics platforms with the capability to solve these problems, but few, if any, purposefully design the platform, workstation, chemistry, and consumable components to offer a truly integrated automation solution. That’s because it’s a complex process to employ automated sample preparation for multi-step reactions.

Unlocking the potential of automation platforms requires a close partnership between LC-MS application scientists and automation engineers. This partnership enables the purposeful development of multi-step methods, including:

  • Reconstitution and dilution
  • Derivatization
  • Enzymatic digestion
  • Solid phase extraction
  • Intricacies of specific liquid classes

All while taking into consideration the intricacies of each liquid class on deck.

You may now be asking yourself: “But, what does all this really mean?”

Integrated automation

The concept of integrated automation means that products designed for automation systems get a lot smarter. Migrating complex, multi-step workflows to a liquid handler are addressed by purposefully matching scientific processes to technology capabilities. You don’t adapt your method to fit what the technology does – your technology partner makes sure that the instrumentation enables your analytical goals.

Integrated automation describes the strategy of implementing robotics systems in application specific settings.

When the burden of developing fully automated sample preparation methods shifts from your lab to a vendor partner, it makes it easier to decide if automation is something you want in your lab. When you don’t have to worry about the time and effort needed to get up and running, the implementation of fully automated methods gets a lot less risky.

Fully automated sample preparation methods are now just a click away.